Students entering the animal welfare debate


A Q&A with a veterinary college student featuring her take on the state of animal welfare and her peers' responses and hopes for the future.

NATIONAL REPORT — The world of animal welfare — disreputable dog breeders' squalid kennels, abuse and neglect of companion animals, and the welfare of food animals — is in the American media spotlight these days. And today's veterinary student will be more involved than ever in the debates. With that in mind, we turned to a veterinary college student for her take on the state of animal welfare and her peers' responses and hopes for the future.

Ashley Smit is a second-year student at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. We reached Smit by e-mail recently after her talk at the Joint International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare at Michigan State University Nov. 8 to 11.

Ashley Smit

DVM Newsmagazine: What brought you to go to the symposium at Michigan State?

Ashley Smit: I attended the conference in my official capacity as student liaison to the American Veterinary Medicla Association (AVMA) Animal Welfare Committee from the Student AVMA Animal Welfare Committee.

DVM Newsmagazine: Why was it important for those at the event to hear from a veterinary student?

Smit: Veterinary students are the future of our profession. In a conversation about education and evolving curriculums, the best primary source of information is the students who are sitting in classrooms. Hearing students ask for more discussion and education on the topic of animal welfare shows the need to not only have symposia about the topic, but to take ideas outside that room into the hands of desiring future practitioners. To discuss a need is beneficial but to implement the discussed ideas is vital.

DVM Newsmagazine: What do you think veterinary students bring to the table in discussions about animal welfare?

Smit: Veterinary students bring a fresh perspective to the debate. We are just beginning our professional careers, so there is less discussion about the way things have always been done and more focus on how they can and should be done in the future. On the other hand, it is important for students to learn from the experience of practitioners and educators with many more years of practical experience. Somewhere between new ideas and years of experience lies the ability to derive effective solutions. Veterinary students are able to well represent one side of that equation, seasoned practitioners and educators, another side. Working together is essential.

DVM Newsmagazine: What are the hot-button topics on animal welfare in veterinary school right now?

Smit: Animal welfare discussions on my campus generally occur in club-specific meetings, during lectures and in panel discussions. One recent discussion was on the ability of all students, as future doctors who are viewed as animal authorities, to speak knowledgably and scientifically of a breadth of animal welfare issues both within and beyond the scope of their particular practice.

DVM Newsmagazine: What do veterinary students think of new organizations that focus on animal welfare like the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association?

Smit: Animal welfare is a complex topic, and each person brings to the table a unique point-of-view. I cannot pretend to speak on behalf of all vet students. Students, practitioners and all other stakeholders in the debate come from a variety of experiences and backgrounds that inform and color their viewpoints. I believe that the table of the animal welfare debate is a large one and that the more organizations and individuals who come to that table and participate in the discussion, the better. Increased dialogue with different organizations encourages analysis of ideas to ensure scientific soundness.

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